Former Publish Workplace CEO Paula Vennells has stepped down from two enterprise roles and as an affiliate Church of England minister after the Courtroom of Enchantment dominated that the organisation she ran for seven years from 2012 had prosecuted harmless folks.
Vennells’ roles on the boards of shops Morrisons and Dunelm and on the Church of England turned untenable following the damning judgments.
Final week, the Courtroom of Enchantment overturned the convictions of 39 former subpostmasters who the government-owned Publish Workplace had blamed for accounting shortfalls. Some had been despatched to jail and the lives of people and their households had been ruined.
The entire variety of convictions overturned thus far is 45, with six others overturned at Southawk Crown Courtroom in December, and there might be extra. The Legal Instances Assessment Fee (CCRC), which referred the newest instances to the Courtroom of Enchantment, is at present reviewing 22 extra instances and the Scottish CCRC is 5.
Greater than 700 folks had been prosecuted primarily based on proof from the Publish Workplace’s Horizon IT system, which has been proved to be comprise errors.
Vennells left the Publish Workplace in 2019 simply earlier than a dangerous Excessive Courtroom judgment that slammed the administration of the organisation that punished subpostmasters for errors made by its personal pc system. She took greater than £400,000 in pay and bonuses together with her.
Vennells left her function as chair at Imperial Faculty Healthcare NHS Belief in December following revelations about her function within the Horizon scandal, however remained in her different roles.
However the Courtroom of Enchantment judgment elevated the strain by ruling that the prosecutions of subpostmasters had been greater than incompetence on the Publish Workplace’s half, however had been carried out regardless of the Publish Workplace figuring out that they may not get a good trial. The Publish Workplace had admitted that it wrongly prosecuted subpostmasters on the grounds that the pc proof utilized in prosecutions was probably unreliable (“Limb 1”), however after Paul Marshall of Cornerstone Barristers insisted on the problem being pursued, a further limb was accepted by the court docket as an debatable floor for attraction.
“Limb 2”, as it’s recognized, meant the Publish Workplace knew it was not doable for subpostmasters to have a good trial however prosecuted them anyway, which was an “affront to the general public conscience,” in accordance with the CCRC – or, because the Courtroom of Enchantment mentioned in its judgment, “an affront to the conscience of the court docket”. In impact, that is conduct that undermines the prison justice system or public confidence in it.
The 39 convictions that had been overturned had been quashed on each grounds. This throws the highlight on the Publish Workplace management as a result of it’s now not a case of mere incompetence that led to the wrongful prosecutions, however deliberate Publish Workplace technique.
Marshall insisted on the court docket listening to the Limb 2 argument and the Courtroom of Enchantment finally agreed to listen to it regardless of opposition from the Publish Workplace within the March 2021 attraction.
Marshall mentioned that with out that second floor for attraction, Vennells might have mentioned the selections to prosecute had been merely operational errors and nothing to do together with her. “What the Courtroom of Enchantment determination on Limb 2 does is say the whole course of prosecutions that had been involved with Horizon points and the Publish Workplace’s total technique round them, for which she was finally accountable, had been an abuse of the courts’ course of,” he mentioned.
The Publish Workplace was made conscious of potential pc errors over a few years. Pc Weekly first revealed the scandal in 2009, with the tales of seven subpostmasters. However the Publish Workplace, led by Vennells from 2012 to 2019, persistently denied that there have been any errors within the Horizon system (see timeline under of Pc Weekly articles since 2009).
Even in 2015, after an unbiased report on Horizon by forensic accounting agency Second Sight discovered severe issues within the system, the Publish Workplace nonetheless denied their existence.
That yr, the Publish Workplace’s then head of communications, Mark Davies, wrote this about concerning the Publish Workplace-commissioned report within the Subspaceonline journal, which was despatched to subpostmasters: “A lot of the reporting is designed, as reporting typically is, to current an image which seems alarming: it doesn’t nonetheless mirror the truth of the scenario, which is a way from that you could be examine or see on the TV.”
Davies additionally wrote on the time: “Sadly the forensic accountants have additionally repeated allegations which aren’t supported by the details. We can’t after all assist their findings on these factors – and you wouldn’t count on us to do in any other case.”
This denial mirrored the Publish Workplace’s stance on Horizon’s issues for a few years. Vennells was answerable for the organisation and due to this fact accountable for this.
Former subpostmaster Jo Hamilton, who had her prison conviction overturned, mentioned the victims of the scandal might have had their lives again virtually decade in the past if Vennells had not ignored their claims and studies that Horizon was probably at fault for the accounting shortfalls.
“From the disclosure in court docket, it’s clear she knew virtually a decade in the past what was taking place and but she selected to remain and hard it out,” mentioned Hamilton. “She allowed two Excessive Courtroom trials to go forward at a price of a whole lot of thousands and thousands of kilos and solely when it was clear we had been profitable did she step down from her Publish workplace function. We might have had our lives again 10 years in the past.
“By taking up many senior roles elsewhere, together with the Cupboard Workplace, it’s clear she has no ethical compass in any respect.”
In 2019, Vennells was awarded a CBE for providers to the Publish Workplace and charity. There are calls within the Home of Commons and among the many public for her to be stripped of this.